Many historians call the Armenian Holocaust the first holocaust of the 20th Century, a dress rehearsal for the Nazi nightmare that followed. This April 24 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of roughly 1.5 million Armenian Christians at the hands of Turkish Muslims. That mass slaughter has gone virtually unreported by the broadcast networks.
It was a genocide so awful that candidate Barack Obama promised in 2008 he would acknowledge it as such. “As president, I will recognize the Armenian genocide,” he vowed. Obama has violated that promise every year since.
This will be the seventh anniversary that Obama breaks that promise to be honest about what one U.S. ambassador once called a “campaign of race extermination.” Yet ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows have mentioned that failed promise only once during the Obama presidency. That occurred on April 12, 2015. Even that took the combined efforts of Pope Francis, third-generation Armenian-American celebrity Kim Kardashian and her husband, singer Kanye West – all bringing attention to the genocide.
The horrid anniversary is especially profound this year as the world watches once more as Muslim extremists butcher Christians across the Mideast.
“The genocide was the greatest atrocity of the Great War. It also remains that conflict’s most bitterly contested legacy, having been met by the Turkish authorities with 100 years of silence and denial,” The New York Times wrote April 16, 2015.
The horrific mass murder has been mentioned in just four network stories since Jan. 20, 2009, when Obama took office. But all three networks found ample time to discuss other important Armenian issues – an Armenian company making a chocolate bar 18 feet long by 9 feet wide; Armenian brandy and Armenian Lula Kebabs.
All three networks also made room for other filler stories, such as the White House dog. Reporters spent story after story, oohing and aahing over the presidential pet, the Portuguese Water Dog Bo. Bo has been featured in at least 112 stories and briefs during the Obama presidency, 28 times more than the Armenian genocide.
Even when the subject of the genocide was pertinent to the story, network journalists left out either the slaughter or Obama’s failed promise. CBS Sunday Morning Oct. 11, 2009, showed that even when the networks addressed the issue, they really didn’t. “Turkey and Armenia have agreed to establish diplomatic relations and open their sealed border, which has been closed the past 16 years. Secretary of State Clinton helped the two sides overcome last-minute snags before the accord was signed yesterday in Zurich,” said anchor Charles Osgood. He didn’t explain why those diplomatic relationships might be strained.
The Broken Promise
Presidents break promises, but to break a promise to acknowledge genocide is extreme. ABC, CBS and NBC produced 44 stories and briefs involving Armenia and Armenians during the Obama presidency. Only once did they mention his failed promise.
All three networks missed their chance when Obama went to Turkey in 2009. Obama laid a wreath at the grave of the founder of modern Turkey – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The April 6, 2009, NBC Nightly News Chief White House Correspondent Chuck Todd helped the administration dodge the issue. Todd called Obama’s visit to Turkey one of “the shrewder early moves” of the presidency.
“[S]peaking of the Armenians, the president sidestepped the controversial issue about whether Turkey should recognize, in a way, of calling it genocide, the slaughter of millions of Armenians during the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1915,” Todd said. He made no mention of the promise.
World News with Charles Gibson at least referred to the slaughter as “genocide.” Obama “urged continued progress in Turkey on human rights for minorities such as the Kurds and invoking American slavery, gently suggested Turkey acknowledge its slaughter of hundreds of thousands of Armenians early last century,” said Jake Tapper. “Though significantly, Mr. Obama avoided the word genocide.” Significantly, Tapper also avoided Obama’s forgotten promise.
ABC News has an “Armenian Genocide News” topics page that lists two separate stories of Obama’s failed promise. One read: “Obama again breaks promise to commemorate Armenian ‘genocide.'” Neither made it to broadcast.
The Turks, long-time U.S. allies and members of NATO, deny a genocide occurred. Their aggressive defense has been credited with convincing Obama to limit his comments.
The pope also received strongly negative feedback for his efforts. Mehmet Gormez, leader of the Religious Affairs Directorate, “the highest religious authority in largely Muslim Turkey” told Reuters the pope’s comments were “immoral.”
The Nightmare of Genocide
Journalists didn’t have far to go if they wanted to learn about the Armenian Genocide. They needed only watch the February 28, 2010, 60 Minutes. Senior Foreign Correspondent Bob Simon, now deceased, showed the horror in terms hard even for Turkey to deny.
“Armenians and an overwhelming number of historians say that Turkey’s rulers committed genocide,” Simon explained, adding that the slaughter became a model for Germany.
Simon took viewers to a horrifying scene in Deir Zor in Syria, “the greatest graveyard of the Armenian genocide,” according to author Peter Balakian. Next to a church marking the genocide (since destroyed by the Islamic extremists group ISIS), Simon and Balakian walked to a dump filled with remains of Armenian victims.
The team was able to reach into the dirt and grab bones and bone fragments almost at will. Nearby teens aided them and provided a handful of such bones. “It was extraordinary standing on a mound where perhaps thousands of people lie entombed,” said Simon.
He went on to explain how such an atrocity occurred. “The Armenians were a Christian minority who were considered infidels by the ruling Muslims – a fifth column who sided with the enemy in the war,” he explained. The Turks arrested, deported and executed the Armenians by the thousands.
When it happened, U.S. Ambassador Henry Morgenthau sent a letter to Washington that Simon quoted, “Deportation of and excesses against peaceful Armenians is increasing and from harrowing reports of eyewitnesses, it appears that a campaign of race extermination is in progress.”
Simon didn’t hide embarrassing facts, even those embarrassing to the Obama administration. “During his presidential campaign, candidate Obama promised that, if elected, he would use the word. “The Armenian genocide,” he said, “is a widely documented fact supported by an overwhelming body of evidence.”
“The Ottoman Turks developed a template which according to genocide scholars was adopted by the Nazis,” Simon continued. The report then explained how Armenians were driven into caves and fires were lighted to draw the oxygen out of the caves, suffocating those inside.
Interestingly, CBS was the only network of the three that never mentioned the genocide in either morning or evening broadcasts during the entire six-year period.
Keeping Priorities Straight
Journalists on ABC, CBS and NBC had no problem finding time to talk about the important things – such as first dog Bo. Bo was everywhere on the networks – at least 112 times. That’s 28 more times than any mention of a genocide that killed 1.5 million people.
Bo was apparently more important. The networks focused on him doing just about everything. Bo during the Christmas holidays. Bo not joining the presidential family in Hawaii. Bo being taken to Petco by First Lady Michelle Obama. Bo barked when the first lady spoke and was worth $1,600 according to financial disclosure forms.
ABC showed viewers an image of Bo with bunny ears on for Easter 2012. On Aug. 20, 2013, then-White House correspondent Peter Alexander told Today viewers that Bo had company. “Move over Bo, there's a new dog in town, Sunny. And for her inaugural play date, the White House released its own music video. A pair of presidential pets frolicking on the South Lawn, that'll get tails wagging.”
At Christmas, more than a year later, White House correspondent Kristen Welker told about how the White House was decorated, adding, “There are even robotic versions of Sunny and Bo, the first family’s dogs.”
Americans learned enough about the first dog to fill several books. But barely enough about a horrendous genocide to fill a page in one of the worst chapters in human history.
Methodology: The Media Research Center’s Culture Department analyzed all stories and briefs about Armenia on ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news shows during the Obama presidency. That time period ran from January 20, 2009 to April 20, 2015. In addition, MRC Culture looked all stories and briefs involving Bo and Obama during that same time period.